State senator considers taking 'right-to-work' measure to the ballot

OLYMPIA -- As Boeing shops for other states as potential sites for the 777X production, some lawmakers argue it’s time for Washington to become a right-to-work state to keep the company from leaving and to preserve other industrial jobs.  But labor is already fighting back against the effort.

“We know today that we’re at risk of losing these fantastic, high-paying jobs because Washington state is not right-to-work,” said state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.  “What did Governor Perry tweet?  Texas:  low taxes, right to work, come on down.”

Half the states in the country are “right-to-work” states, where employees are not required to join unions or pay dues.  Supporters argue that companies like doing business in those places because the fewer the union workers, the less they will have to pay workers, and the less likelihood of strikes.

Baumgartner wants Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session of the Legislature right away to act on right-to-work.  That, he argues, will help save Boeing jobs here in Washington.  “It’s not about being anti-union,” he said.  “It’s about being pro-choice and pro-freedom.”

Right-to-work sounds simple enough, but the politics certainly aren’t.  One person’s right-to-work law is another’s union buster.

“That solidarity is what keeps labor together and keeps wages high,” said state Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle.  “This is essentially a right to starve.  This is a right to work for whatever the company is willing to pay.  It involves a race to the bottom, and if we go down this path I think we would be doing a major disservice to working people.”

Baumgartner recognizes that right-to-work is an uphill battle in a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratically controlled House, both closely allied with organized labor.  But he says he’s prepared to take the issue directly to the people with a ballot measure if Olympia doesn’t act.

“It’s a very simple concept,” he said.  “The people should have an optional choice, the personal freedom, to decide whether to join a labor organization just in order to pursue a job that can put food on the family’s table.”

Though Inslee is doing all he can to make sure Washington state lands the Boeing 777X, he has so far shown no interest in right-to-work legislation.

Baumgartner is looking at a potential ballot measure in 2015 if legislators don’t act.